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Animal Protection Institute says species would be 'cut off life support'

Environmentalists and animal rights activists on Friday lambasted the state of Montana's proposed wolf management plan, saying it would renew "the very threats that nearly wiped out wolves in the lower 48 states."

In formal comments on the state's draft plan, Animal Protection Institute program coordinator Brian Vincent insisted that "the wolf remains in critical condition" and needs continued protection under the federal Endangered Species Act - not delisting and a transfer of management authority to the state.

"The Endangered Species Act has helped resuscitate wolves," Vincent said. "The Montana plan would essentially cut off life support and throw wolves out of the emergency room before they're recovered."

Same came the comments from the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

At the Alliance, wolf recovery coordinator Renee Van Camp said the state's proposed management plan is based on politics, not sound science. Wolf survival demands a population of 415 to 875 animals in Montana, she said, not the 183 wolves counted at the end of 2002.

It's not even appropriate to consider removing wolves from the endangered species list, Van Camp said. Wolves exist in just 2 percent of their native territory, not the "significant" amount required under the Endangered Species Act, she said.

"Unfortunately, legal and illegal killing of wolves will continue until extensive education and outreach actually begins to make a difference," Van Camp said. "We must compensate with a scientifically proven viable population of genetically healthy wolves that can successfully sustain legal, illegal and natural mortality and still increase to viable levels.

"Claims of recovery are premature, and wolves should remain on the endangered species list under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service management at this time."

The Animal Protection Institute took a slightly different approach in its critique. Montana's management plan, Vincent said, is "an insidious plan that will allow killing of wolves."

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The group is particularly opposed to sport hunting, trapping or any lethal control of wolves, he said. Instead, Vincent encouraged Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to prohibit hunting or trapping, prohibit any lethal control to conserve elk, deer or other wildlife for hunters, and improve public outreach efforts needed to educate Montanans about wolf behavior and biology.

As is, he said, Montana's wolf management plans are "inhumane, unnecessary and not based on sound science."

Friday was the final day of comment-taking on the draft environmental impact statement written by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks in preparation for state wolf management. Federal biologists believe wolf populations are sufficiently healthy that the species can be removed from the endangered species list.

For that delisting to occur, though, the states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho must first adopt wolf management plans. In the meantime, wolves will remain listed - and protected - as threatened species.

Reporter Sherry Devlin can be reached at 523-5268.

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